I’d Walk a Mile for a Bacon Sandwich

November 21, 2009

Unlike Princess Diana who said that she’d walk a mile for a bacon sandwich, pork products aren’t high on my comfort food list, although I’ve been known to enjoy a burned hot dog cooked on a stick over an open fire. Wouldn’t walk a mile for one, though. But I might take a hike for some really good dark chocolate, especially if it has chiles in it. Or a shredded beef taco made with soft corn tortillas, cilantro, and onions, please. Or some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Or an artichoke with garlic mayo. Or homemade cinnamon rolls. Or grilled baby asparagus with mushrooms, onions, and grape tomatoes. Or guacamole. But I digress.

I’m in Ohio right now and there are midwestern food memories here. I went on the hunt for them as soon as I arrived. Within fifteen minutes of picking up a rental car, I was eating a White Castle hamburger. No matter what Harold and Kumar say, these little burgers aren’t all that good, but the memory of them is sweet and I enjoyed every bite. I put the little cardboard box the burger came in into my journal and now, every time I open it to write, the smell of lunch with my mother wafts from the pages. When I was little and we lived in Detroit, she’d sometimes pick me up from school and take me to White Castle.

Mostly the homogenization of the USA is evident everywhere I go, ubiquitous PizzaHutTacoBellMcDonaldsWendyKFCs abound along with various versions of homestyle restaurants that are the same but different everywhere: Denny’s and his cousins and sisters and brothers settled and spread across the land. But there’s one more thing that I can’t find in my home state of Oregon and I drive more than an hour to find it in Ohio: the Holy Grail of ice creamery—frozen custard. This is what my grandpa meant when he asked, “Who wants ice cream?“ I have been disappointed by every other version of vanilla cold stuff since. If you’ve never had frozen custard, you really don’t know what you’re missing. It’s amped-up ice cream, richer and denser and more decadent. I am comforted just thinking about its creamy deliciousness. Thank you, Ritter’s. Thank you, Culver’s. It was scrumptious!

Food is a powerful evocateur, a neologism I use to describe people and things that evoke memories. If you are in school and away from home—or even if you are living at home—food can be a tempting form of self-comfort and stress relief, dangerous because overeating or other food transgressions can lead to the infamous freshperson fifteen that multiplies year by year. I should know. I ended up with the disastrous dissertation double digit gain. I worked hard after all and I deserved some cheddar and sour cream potato chips, a Cherry Pepsi, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. Often my choices represented what was available in the vending machines near my office, not so much comfort food as what I call “Mount Everest food,“ things you eat because they‘re there, not because they’re your personal bacon sandwich. I walked miles and miles on the treadmill to get those pounds off. I don’t think that’s what Princess Diana meant.

What foods comfort you?

Food is the most primitive form of comfort.
• Sheilah Graham


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